Highlights of the 2013 Dancers Forum in L.A.

July 25, 2013

On Thursday evening, SAG-AFTRA, SAG Foundation, and Career Transitions for Dancers presented the 2013 Dancers Forum in L.A. The event was livestreamed, and in the 2-hour-and-45-minute forum, we heard a lot about commercial dance. Nigel Lythgoe and host Cat Deeley opened the forum, speaking about SYTYCD, the show’s audition process, sexuality in dance, and where commercial dance is going. But the greatest meat of the evening came from a panel discussion between director/choreographer Adam Shankman, Answers4Dancers representative Dayna Hasson, MSA Agency co-founder Julie McDonald, DWTS ballroom pro Kym Johnson, SYTYCD alum Stephen “tWitch” Boss, and hip-hop dancer/choreographer Galen Hooks. They gave advice to dancers in L.A., talked about their personal regrets and triumphs, and ruminated over dance in new media. If you weren’t able to see it live, you can watch the entire forum online.** Here are a few of the highlights:


–McDonald says that with the advent of YouTube and social media, dancers—especially those with thousands of followers online—are making more money teaching than they are choreographing.


–Shankman tells Lythgoe that he wants to talk about an idea for a Netflix-based show. (!)


–On getting an agent and maintaining a positive client-agent relationship: Check in with the agent. Don’t expect him/her to do all the work. Be open to criticism. Be prepared to work on yourself to become the professional you want to present. Have a headshot, website, and reel, and present the whole package to your agent.


–A dancer’s reputation is key, says Shankman. “Dancers can be flakey. Some will abandon jobs, and that pisses off everyone.”


–tWitch, who studied dance education at Chapman University before his first gig in Shankman’s film Hairspray, says that his biggest mistake was listening to friends who had told him that one job was all it took for fame. After Hairspray, tWitch waited for opportunities to present themselves to him, instead of continuing to push for more. His advice: It takes more than one job. If you keep booking jobs and create a reputation, producers and choreographers will see that you continually work hard. (Eventually, tWitch auditioned for SYTYCD Season 4 and has consistently returned to the show as an “All Star.” Still, he warns against contestants who appear on the show and think they can ride the exposure instead of actively pursuing next gigs.)


–Shankman, who mentions that he’s had seven knee operations, says he wishes he had taken more time to warm up and cool down. Stress, he says, has been very destructive, and he wishes he had told himself to relax. 


–Advice for someone new to L.A. who wants to pursue dancing and acting? Treat yourself like a product, says Hooks. Know what your strengths are and figure out where you fit in. “You have to know where your lane is,” she says. “Your headshots have to be right and your reel must align with that. Even if you have all the enthusiasm and passion, you must do the business part of show-business.” (Earlier in the discussion, Hooks commented, “If you don’t have anything on YouTube, you’re screwed.” Noting the music industry’s habit of last-minute casting, Hooks relies heavily on YouTube to watch dancers’ reels or Facebook to see artists’ headshots.)


–McDonald also commented on those who wish to dance and act: “It’s one of the hardest transitions to make from dancing to acting. You have to go to class and make sacrifices. You can’t just say you want to be an actor. You have to be committed and take the workshops. Spend time learning.” 


**The actual video starts about 19 minutes into the feed. Just fast-forward.